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and we have lost the thread of the story. This error,
or defect, would seem to have presented itself as a peril
to the mind of M. Bourget : for in his latest stories he
is manifestly on his guard against it, and " L'Ecran,"

246 French Profiles

in particular, is a really excellent example of a tale told
to excite and amuse even those who are quite indifferent
to the lesson it conveys, and to the exquisite art of its

In the month of June the Lautrecs and the Sarlieves.
two aristocratic menages of Paris, come over to England
to enjoy the London season, into the whirlpool of which
they descend. But at almost the same moment arrives
the Vicomte Bertrand d'Aydie, who is understood to
nurse an absolutely hopeless and respectful passion for
the sainted Marquise Alyette de Lautrec. This de-
votion is much " chaffed " in clubs and smilingly alluded
to in drawing-rooms as pure waste of time, since the
purity and dignity of Madame de Lautrec are above the
possibility of suspicion. But Madame de Lautrec's
dearest friend happens to be the Vicomtesse Emmeline
de Sarlieve — a gay and amiable butterfly, of whom no
one thinks seriously at all. Bertrand and Emmeline
have, however, for some time past, carried on with
complete immunity a liaison, under the shadow of their
friendship for Alyette, I'ecran, the screen. Bertrand
encourages the idea that he is throwing away a desperate
passion on the icy heart of Alj^ette, when he is really
planning with Emmeline rendezvous, which owe their
facility to the presence of Alyette. The reader does not
know M. Bourget if he is not by this time conscious that
here are united all the elements for one of his most
ingenious ethical problems. The visit of the quintette
to London precipitates the inevitable catastrophe.
M. Bourgct's sketch of our society is wonderfully skilful
and entertaining, and Londoners will recognise some
familiar faces, scarcely disguised under the travesty of
false names.

M. Paul Boiirget 247


The author of Outre-Mer takes himself, as the phrase
goes, rather seriously. He passes in New York and in
Paris as a kind of new De Tocqueville. It is no
detraction of his gifts, nor of the charm of his amus-
ing volumes, to say that they are not quite so im-
portant to an English as to a French or to an American
audience. They are important in France, because M.
Bourget is a highly accomplished public favourite,
whose methods attract attention whatever subject he

may deal with, and whose mind has here been given to

the study of a kind of life not familiar to Frenchmen, j

are important in America, because America is"
greatly moved by European opinion, and must be
flattered at so close an examination of her institutions
by an eminent French writer. But in England our
contact with the United States is closer and more habitual
than that between those States and France, while our
vanity is not more stimulated by M. Bourget's study of
America than by M. Loti's pictures of Jerusalem. To
put it boldly, we know more and care less than the two
main classes who will form the audience of Outre-Mer.

Taking, then, this calmer standpoint, the feats of
M. Bourget's sympathetic appreciation, and the de-
ficiencies in his equipment, leave us, on the whole, rather
indifferent. No book of this author has been so much
talked of beforehand, or so ardently expected, as Outre-
Mer, and we do not suppose that its two main bodies of
readers will be at all disappointed. \ But no philosophical
Englishman will consider it the best of I\I. Bourget's
books. He will, for example, be infinitely less pleased
with it than he was with Sensations d' Italic, a much less
popular work. The fact is that in reading what the

248 French Profiles

elegant psychologist has to say about America, " on
y regrette," as he himself would say, " la douce et lente
Europe." The reason of this is, that in dealing with
certain superficial features of a vast and crude new
civilisation, M. Bourget is a razor cutting a hone. "^ The
razor is amazingly sharp and bright, but it is not doing
its proper business. M. Bourget is a subtle and minute
analyst, whose gift it is to distinguish between delicate
orders of thought which are yet closely allied, to deter-
mine between new elements and old ones in survival, to
provoke, with profundity and penetration, long develop-
ments of reverie. He is at home in old societies and
waning cities; he is a master in the evocation of new
lights on outworn themes. He is full of the nostalgia
of the past, and he dreams about the dead while he
moves among the living. It is obvious that such a
writer is out of place in the study of a country that has
no past, no history, no basis of death, a country where
a man looks upon his grandfather as a historical
character, and upon a house a hundred years old as a
historical monument. What M. Bourget has done is
extraordinarily clever and brilliant, but he was not the
man to be set to do it.

The conditions under which the work progressed were,
though specious, not less unfavourable to its perfection.
These notes, by a famous Frenchman, on the social life
of America to-day, were prepared to appear first of all
in an enterprising New York journal. That M. Bourget
should accept such a test proclaims his courage, and that
he should, in the main, have endured the ordeal, his
accuracy and care. It is none the less a shock to find
the book dedicated, in a very clever prefatory epistle, to
Mr, James Gordon Bennett, and to realise that before
its impressions could be given to the world they had

M. Paul Bourget 249

to pass through the mill of the New York Herald. The
result is a book which is beautifully written, and which,
above all, gives the impression of being sincerely written
— a book which contains many brilliant flashes of
intuition, many just and liberal opinions, and some
pictures of high merit, but which, somehow, fails to be
philosophical, and is apt to slip between the stools of
vain conjecture and mere reporter's work. A great deal
which will be read with most entertainment in Ouire-
Mer — the description of Chicago, for instance, and the
visit to the night-side of New York — is really fitted to
appear in a daily newspaper, and then to be forgotten.
It is very full and conscientious, but it is the production
of a sublimated reporter, and there is precious little
De Tocqueville about it.

This, however, may be considered hypercritical.
M. Bourget spent eight or nine months in the United
States, with no other occupation than the collection of
the notes from which these volumes are selected. He
had all possible facilities given to him, and he worked
in a fair and generous spirit. He was genuinely in-
terested in America, interested more intelligently, no
doubt, than any other recent Frenchman has been. It
would have been strange if he had not written a book
which repaid perusal. The faults of M. Bourget's style
have always been over-elaboration and excess of detail.
Here he has been tempted to indulge these frailties,
and we cannot say that he is not occasionally tedious
when he lingers upon facts and conditions obvious to
all Englishmen who visit America. Hence, we like his
book best where it gives us the results of the application
of his subtle intellect to less familiar matters. All he
has to say about the vitality of the Catholic Church
in the United States is worthy of close attention. His


250 French Profiles

interviews with Cardinal Gibbon and Archbishop Ireland
are of material interest, and his notes on the socialistic
tendencies of American Catholicism singularly valuable.
No pages here are more graphic than those which record
a visit to a Roman church in New York, and the sermon
which the author listened to there. He was struck, as
all visitors to America must be, with the absence of
reverie, of the spiritual and experimental spirit, in the
teaching and tendency of the Church of Rome in America,
and with its practical energy, its businesslike activity
and vehemence. In a few words M. Bourget renders
w-ith admirable skill that air of antiquity and Catholic
piety which make Baltimore more like a city of Southern
Europe than any other in the United States. In ob-
servation of this kind M. Bourget can always be

As befits the inquiry of a Latin psychologist, the
question of woman takes a very prominent part in the
investigatioh^ofM. Bourget. On this subject what he
has to say and what he has to admit ignorance of are
equally interesting. He has to confess himself baffled
by that extraordinary outcome of Western civilisation,
the American girl, but he revenges himself by the nota-
tion of innumerable instances of her peculiarities and
idiosyncrasies. On the whole, though she puzzles him,
he is greatly delighted with her. We remember hearing
of the visit paid to Newport by a young French poet
of the Symbolists, who was well acquainted with the
American language, but whose manners were all adjusted
to the model of the Boulevard St. Michel. He made
a dozen serious blunders, all of which were benignly for-
given, before he settled down to some due recognition
of the cold, free, stimulating and sphinx-like creature
that woman is on the shores of America. M. Bourget

M. Paul BoLirget 251

is too much a man of the world, and has been too care-
fully trained, to err in this way, but his wonder is no less
pronounced. He comes to the curious " resultat que Ic
desir de la femme est demeure au second rang dans les
preoccupations de ces hommes." He considers, as
other observers have done, that this condition of things
can be but transitory, and that the strange apotheosis
of the American girl, with all that it presupposes in the
way of reticence of manners, is but a passing phase.
He falls into an eloquent description of the American
idol, the sexless woman of the United States, and closes
it with a passage which is one of the most remarkable in
his volumes : —

" Cette femme peut ne pas etre aimee. Elle n'a pas
besoin d'etre aimee. Ce n'est ni la volupte ni la ten-
dresse qu'elle symbolise. Elle est comme un objet
d'art vivant, une savante et derniere composition
humaine qui atteste que le Yankee, ce desespere d'hier,
ce vaincu du vieux monde, a su tirer de ce sauvage
univers ou il fut jete par le sort toute une civilisation
nouvelle, incarnee dans cette femme-la, son luxe et son
orgueil. Tout s'eclaire de cette civilisation au regard
de ces yeux profonds, . . . tout ce qui est I'ldealisme
de ce pays sans Ideal, ce qui sera sa perte peut-etre,
mais qui jusqu'ici demeure sa grandeur : la foi absolue,
unique, systematique et indomptable dans la Volonte."
With the West the author does not seem to have any
personal acquaintance. In his chapter on " Cowboys "
he tells some marvellous stories. We know not what
to think of the vivacious anecdote of the men who,
weary to see some eminent emanation of the East,
planned the kidnapping of Madame Sarah Bernhardt
as she passed Green River on her way to the Pacific.
The great actress had taken an earlier express, and was

252 French Profiles

saved from her embarrassing captors. M. Bourget
occupies nearly fifty pages with a " Confession of a Cow-
boy," the source of which is very vaguely stated. All
this, we must acknowledge, seems rather poor to us,
and must have been collected at worse than second-
hand. Those chapters, on the contrary, which deal
with the South, are particularly fresh and charming.
There is no sort of connection between the close of the
second volume, which deals with an excursion through
Georgia and Florida, and the rest of the book, yet no
one will wish this species of appendix omitted. The
author gives an exceedingly picturesque and humorous
picture of life in a Georgian watering-place, which he
calls Phillipeville, where somebody or other is lynched
every year. M. Bourget, as in duty bound, tells a spirited
story of a " lynchage." He describes, too, in his very
best style, the execution of a rebellious but repentant

When our author proceeded still further South, he
had not the good fortune to see such striking sights, or
to meet with so singular a population. But at Jackson-
ville, Florida, he was able, as nowhere else, to study the
negro at home, and at St. Augustine he discovered to
his delight a sort of Cannes or Monte Carlo of America,
with its gardens of oranges and jasmine, its green oaks and
its oleanders. He rejoiced, after his long inland wander-
ings, to see the ocean breaking on the reefs of Anastasia.
Upon the whole, whether in the North or the South,
M. Bourget has been pleased with the United States.
He has recognised the two great defects of that countr}^ ;
its incoherence, and its brutality. He has recognised a
factitious element in its cultivation, corruption in its
politics, and a general excess in its activity. He delights
in three typical American words, and discovers " puff,"

M. Paul Bourget 253

" boom." and " bluff " at every turn. He comes back
to Europe at last with that emotion of gratitude which
every European feels, however warmly he has been
welcomed in America, and in however favourable a light
American life has been shown to him. Yet he is con-
scious of its high virtues, its noble possibilities, and on
the whole his picture of the great Republic, so carefully
and modestly prepared, so conscientiously composed, is
in a high degree a flattering and attractive one.

1895. y


(_ We are so little accustomed in England to the pole-
mical novel, or, indeed, to the novel of ideas in any
form, that it is difficult for us to realise the condition
of mind which has led M. Bourget to fling himself mto
the arena of French politics with a romance which must

■"give extreme offence to the majority of its possible
readers, and which runs violently counter to tlie tra-
ditional complacency of French democratic life^! It is
probable that M. Bourget no longer cares vely much
whether he offends or pleases, and, doubtless, the more
he scourges the many, the more he endears himself to
the comparatively few. Here, in England, we are
called upon— if only English people would comprehend
the fact— to contemplate and not to criticise the intel-
lectual and moral idiosyncrasies of our neighbours. If
we could but learn the lesson that a curious attention,
an inquisitive observation into foreign modes of thought
becomes us very well, but that we are not asked for
our opinion, it would vastly facilitate our relations. In
calling attention to M. Bourget's extremely interesting
and powerful novel, I expressly deprecate the impertin-
"ence of our " taking a side " in the matter of its aim.

254 French Profiles

We have our own national failings to attend to ; let us,
for goodness' sake, avoid the folly of hauling our neigh-
bours up to a tribunal of Anglo-Saxon political virtue.
It should be enough for us that the phenomena which
in France produce a Monneron on tlie one side and a
Ferrand on the other are very interesting. Let us
oljserve them as closel}' as we can, but not hazard a

The title of M. Bourget's book would offer me a great
difficulty if I were called upon to translate it, and I am
not sure that a Frenchman will immediately understand
what is symbolised by it. An etape is a stage, a station ;
on hmle I'etape by rushing through, without, as it were,
stopping to change horses. Is, then, the theme of this
book the stage, the day's march, as it were, which its
over-educated peasant takes in passing over to Con-
servatism ? Does the Monnerons' fault consist in their
having " burned " their etape in their too great hurry
to cut a figure in society ? It is not until the final
page 516 that we meet with the word and the image,
even as we have to reach the last paragraph of Stendhal's
masterpiece before we hear of the Chartreuse de Parme.
Enough, then, that the subject of this Iitape is the story
of a family of peasants from the Ardeche, one of whom
has received an education in excess of his fitness for
it ; has become, in other words, a functionary and a
bourgeois without the necessary preparation. It might
be rash to suppose that so practised an author as M.
Bourget would condescend to be influenced by a much
younger writer, or else I should say that throughout this
book I am constrained to perceive the spirit of M. (
Maurice Barres. The attitude of the writer of L'itape \
has, at all events, become astonishingly identical with \/
that of the author of Les Deracines, and to have read I

M. Paul Bourget 255

that extraordinary work will prepare a reader in many
ways for the study of the novel before us. In both the
one and the other it would, perhaps, be more critical to
say that we see fructifying and spreading the pessimist ' hoc
influence of Taine.

The uncomfortable and paradoxical condition of
modern society in France is attributed by these writers
of the school of Taine to the obstinate cultivation of
political chimeras which have outlived the excitement
of the Revolution. The keynote to the attitude of
modern democracy is conceived by M. Bourget to be
hostility to the origins and history of the country. The
good hero of the story, M. Ferrand (who is inclined, like
all good heroes, to be a little oracular), reminds the
young socialist of a passage in Plato's Timceus where we
are told that a most ancient priest of the temple of Sais
warned Solon that the weakness of the Greeks was their
possessing no ancient doctrine transmitted by their
ancestors, no education passed down from age to age by
venerable teachers. It is this lack of authoritative
continuity which M. Bourget deplores; his view of
1789 is that it snapped the thread that bound society
to the past, that it vulgarised, uprooted, shattered,
and destroyed things which were essential to national
prosperity and to individual happiness. He thinks that
one of these hnks still exists and can be strengthened
indefinitely — namely, the Catholic religion. Therefore,
according to M. Bourget, the first thing a Frenchman has
to do is to abandon his ideology and his collectivism,
which lead only to anarchical and incoherent forms of
misery, and to humble himself before the Church, by
the aid of which alone a wholesome society can be rebuilt
on the ruins of a hundred years of revolutionary madness.

One is bound, however, to point out that if Taine's

256 French Profiles

teaching can be interpreted in a reactionary sense,
there is nothing in his writings which seems to justify
its being distorted for poUtical and clerical purposes.
I have endeavoured to summarise as fairly as possible
what seem to be M. Bourget's views about " the lack of
authoritative continuity." But Taine is careful, in
L' Ancien Regime, precisely to insist that all the Revolu-
tion did was to transfer the exercise of absolute power
from the King to a central body of men in Paris. Here
was no breach of continuity ; it was merely a new form
of precisely the same thing. M. Bourget, and those
who act with him, seem to overlook completely the kernel
of Taine's argument, namely, that the Revolution was
not a spontaneous growth, but the outcome of three
centuries of antecedent events. The latest reaction-
aries, I must confess, appear to me to introduce an
element of wilful obscurity into a position which Taine
left admirably clear and plain.

Considered purely as a^ story, L'itape is told with all
M. Bourget's accustomed solidity and refinement. It
has, moreover, a vigorous evolution which captivates
the attention, and prevents the elaboration of the author's
analysis from ever becoming dull. The action passes
in university society, and practically within the families
of two classical professors at the Sorbonne. M. Ferrand,
the Catholic, who is all serenity and joy, has a gentle,
lovely daughter, Brigitte. She is courted by Jean, the
eldest son of M. Monneron, who has the misfortune
to be a Republican and a Dre\'fusard, and everything,
in fact, which is sinister and fatal in the eyes of M.
Bourget. Brigitte will not marry Jean Monneron
unless he consents to become a Catholic, and the intrigue
of the novel proceeds, with alarming abruptness, during
the days in which Jean is making up his mind to take

M. Paul Bourget 257

the leap. Terrible things happen to the agitated
members of the Monneron family— things which lead
them to forgery and attempted murder — and all on
account of their deplorable political opinions, while
the happy and virtuous Ferrands sit up aloft, in the
purity of their reaction, and, ultimately, as it happens,
take care of the life of poor Jean. Told baldly thus,
or rather not told at all, but summarised, the plot seems
preposterous; and it cannot, I think, be denied that
it is in some degree mechanical. Is not this a fault to
which those novelists in France who throw in their lot
with the disciples of Balzac are peculiarly liable ?

Plot, however, in our trivial sense, is the least matter
about which M. Bourget troubles himself. He is
occupied with two things : the presentation of his thesis
— we may almost say his propaganda — and the conduct
of his personages when face to face in moments of ex-
alted spiritual excitement. In the past, he has some-
times shirked the clash of these crises, as if shrinking a^
little from the mere physical disturbance of them. But
he does not do so in L'Etape, which will be found " awfully
thrilling," even by the Hildas of the circulating libraries.
In the study of the " Union Tolstoi," which is a sort of
Toynbee Hall, founded in the heart of Paris by Cremieu-
Dax (a curious reminiscence, whether conscious or not,
of our own Leonard Montefiore), M. Bourget is led away
by the blindness of his exclusive fanaticism. A lighter
touch, a httle of the playfulness of humour, would have
rendered more probable and human this humanitarian
club of Jews and Protestants and Anarchists and faddists,
united in nothing but in their enmity to the ancient
government and faith of France. And the ruin of the
'' Union Tolstoi " is shown to be so inevitable, that we
arelefFlo wonder how it could ever ha\-e seemed to


258 French Profiles

The portraits in the book, however, are neither
mechanical nor hard. The old Monneron, gentle,
learned, and humane, but bound hand and foot by his
network of political prejudices ; the impudent Antoine ;
Julie, the type of the girl emancipated oh" Ahglo-
"American lines, and doomed to violent catastrophe;
the enthusiastic and yet patient, fanatical and yet
tender millionaire socialist, Solomon Cremieu-Dax ; in
a lesser degree the unfortunate Abbe Chanut, who
believes that the democracy can be reconciled to the
Church — all these are admirable specimens of M.
Bourget's art of portraiture. The novel is profoundly ,1
interesting, although hardly addressed to those who
run while they read ; but it must not be taken as a
text-book of the state of France without a good deal
of counteracting Republican literature. Yet it is a
document of remarkable value and a charming work
of art. y




When I was young I had the pleasure of knowing
a prominent Plymouth Brother, an intelligent and
fanatical old gentleman, into whose house there strayed
an attractive volume, which he forbade his grown-up
son and daughter to peruse. A day or two later, his
children, suddenly entering his library, found him deep
in the study of the said dangerous book, and gently
upbraided him with doing what he had expressly told
them not to do. He replied, with calm good-humour,
" Ah ! but you see I have a much stronger spiritual
digestion than you have ! " This question of the
" spiritual digestion " is one which must always trouble
those who are asked to recommend one or another
species of reading to an order of undefined readers.
Who shall decide what books are and what books are not
proper to be read ? There are some people who can
pasture unpoisoned upon the memoirs of Casanova, and
others who are disturbed by The Idyls of the King. They
tell me that in Minneapolis Othello is considered ob-
jectionable; our own great-aunts thought Jane Eyre
no book for girls. In the vast complicated garden of
literature it is always difficult to say where the toxico-
logist comes in, and what distinguishes him from the
purveyor of a salutary moral tonic. In recent French
romance, everybody must acknowledge, it is practically
impossible to lay down a hard and fast rule.
The object of this chapter, however, is not to decide


262 French Profiles

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